Sexual Harassment allegations against The Viral Fever's CEO

Last Updated: Thu, Mar 16, 2017 12:57 hrs
Women abuse

Charges of sexual harassment against The Viral Fever’s founder, Arunabh Kumar, only goes to prove that even the most “progressive” workplaces are patriarchal and unsafe for women. The media company known for its comedic web series is facing a call for boycott. It started with this anonymous post by a woman carried by Medium which alleged that she was sexually harassed on several occasions after she was hired by Kumar, fresh out of college. She speaks of several instances where he solicits sexual favours and makes overtly sexual remarks.

Right from Pitchers to Tripling, i was molested. Be it in parties where Arunabh would try to lift me or would try and fall on me pretending he is drunk. One instance was the Ola deal. The Ola team was meeting him and we were taking notes. He walks out of the meeting with some excuse and calls me for some notes. I walk up. He says its time we do a quicky. I am stunned.

When she threatens to take it to the police, Kumar is alleged to have said – “Police meri pocket mein hai” or the police are in my pocket. The response reeks of a classic power dynamic, where women feel threatened and fear reporting incidents within the workplace as the employer, in this case the CEO, has much more influence and power. In this case, the young woman’s parents did not want her to complain and she eventually left the company.

As soon as the post started going viral, the company responded, not only denying all charges, but also with an unmistakable threat.

We will leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice for making such false allegations.

Are we still surprised why most women do not report sexual harassment? India Spend reported earlier this month that the number is close to 70%. A survey by the Indian Bar Association which interviewed more than 6000 respondents found that the number is high because women fear repercussions. The article has several instances of complaints by women not being investigated seriously.

The high profile case of the woman employee at The Energy & Resources Institute who had to fight a case of harassment against the company’s former director general, RK Pachauri, for two years despite clear evidence illustrates this inequity.

The Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 requires that an internal complaints committee that functions independently ought to be in place where there are representatives of management and the employees. The committee must also have an external woman member. Sruthisagar Yamunan writes in Scroll that the law is poorly implemented and enforced.

the implementation of the law remains heavily skewed in favour of the harasser. In many instances, the strongest penalty a molesters may face is his contract being terminated. His next employer will probably have no clue about the recruit’s record. There is little data on the number of cases that have eventually reached the district officer in order to have penal action initiated against the harasser.

As expected this was not a one-off incident. Two more women came forward alleging that Kumar sexually harassed them. While in the case of Reema Senguptha, it was during a shoot for the company, two other women who were not colleagues shared similar incidents of sexual advances and uninvited physical contact.

Arunabh Kumar’s statement defending himself is ludicrous. There is a thin line between complimenting a woman and being particular about one’s behaviour, especially in the workplace.

The kind of insinuations the FB post makes are untrue. I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she's sexy. I compliment women. Is that wrong? Having said that, I am very particular about my behaviour - I will approach a woman, but never force myself,

That as the head of an organisation, Kumar does not realise that even what he calls “complimenting” can fall within the ambit of harassment as defined by the law shows that most companies do not take the issue seriously. Sexual harassment is not just forcing oneself or physical contact, but often times words, comments and innuendo.

Mumbai-based feminist lawyer Veena Gowda drew attention to the larger responsibility within organisations. Gowda said -

Employers are also required to provide a safe environment for women to enable them to make complaints, and in cases where women don’t speak up, they have to make an effort to find out why someone is not confident enough to complain

The News Minute’s Rakesh Mehar reported that comedians such as Aditi Mittal who supported the victims have been attacked for their one sided take on the issue given the lack of evidence against Arunabh.

However, Mehar writes that the argument is symptomatic of the failure to understand that sexual harassment is fundamentally about power.

To say that one cannot speak because one wants to be equally fair to the victim and the accused, ignores the fact that sexual harassers carry out their crime because they are confident that the power they have over their victims can shield them from any adverse consequences of their actions. What the call for support to the victim demands is that this power differential be equalised, that an aggressor should not be treated with kid gloves because he’s more popular, successful and powerful than the people complaining against him.

A senior TVF member, Nidhi Bisht, has finally come out and said that although shocked by the allegations, an internal complaints committee is in place. She urged the women who made complaints to come forward to make complaints.

Others however, have not retracted their statement attacking the accusers.

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